Study the lives of the saints and you will discover each had a sincere devotion to the mother of God. Their expression of devotion may come from their prayers, homilies, or treatises. Of the great Marian saints, St. Louis de Montfort, should come to mind, who died on this date 300 years ago (April 28, 1716). De Montfort’s greatest and well known contribution was his classic True Devotion to Mary, revered most especially by St. John Paul II, who claimed that reading True Devotion changed his life. In this work, De Montfort lays the foundation for Marian consecration and many people to this day use his treatise in the preparation for total consecration to the Mother of God. Perhaps less well known are two other works focusing on the mother of God from the hand of De Montfort: The Secret of Mary, the sequel or companion to True Devotion, and another work, The Secret of the Rosary. The De Montfort Fathers have published the collected writings of St. Louis De Montfort in one volume, God Alone.
The Secret of the Rosary
This small little work, has sold over 5 million copies and ranks in the top five best sellers in the Mariology section of Amazon. St. John Paul II called De Montfort’s book an excellent work on the rosary in Rosarium Virginis Mariae paragraph 8. Every time I read The Secret of the Rosary, I fall in love with the rosary all over again! It renews my fervor and dedication to this wonderful devotion. In this book, De Montfort relates the significance of the rosary through fifty roses, divided into five decades focusing on the origin and meaning of the rosary, its prayers, mysteries, and marvelous effects. The last decade provides insight into how to better pray the rosary.
I’m always mesmerized by the stories De Montfort relates about the power and efficacy of the rosary. To borrow the title of Fr. Donald Calloway’s soon to be released book on the rosary, De Montfort emphasizes the great Champions of the Rosary through story telling by focusing principally on St. Dominic and Blessed Alan de la Roche. Additionally, De Montfort shares stories about the miraculous nature of the rosary, which offer compelling reasons to be devoted to Mary through rosary recitation. Rightfully so, De Montfort makes distinctions regarding the faith accorded to such stories. The Holy Scriptures require divine faith; to non-faith based stories we give human faith; and to stories recorded in The Secret of the Rosary, we give pious faith, meaning the subjects are not contrary to reason, faith or morals (cf. Tenth Rose). Every time I re-read this rosary classic, I never regret it. The stories are powerful and from them I always gain new insight regarding the rosary.
Rosary Advice from St. Louis De Montfort
In the last ten roses of The Secret of the Rosary, De Montfort teaches people how to pray the rosary. Praying the rosary might seem basic: begin with the Apostles Creed, pray one Our Father, Three Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be, and then pray each mystery and corresponding decade. While that is the practical how-to of saying the rosary, De Montfort takes it one step further and focuses on how to recite the rosary better in terms of interior disposition. Many people find the rosary difficult, so De Montfort seeks to make it more accessible to any devotee.
Purity of Intention (Forty-First Rose)
Over and over again throughout the work, De Montfort emphasizes how those devoted to the rosary overcome sin in their lives. When one prays the rosary, De Montfort speaks of the efficacy of praying it in the state of grace or at the very least with the desire to give up mortal sin. It is important to have contriteness for sin, otherwise, he calls its mere lip service which takes on the form of false devotion by hiding in Mary’s mantle while crucifying the Lord by not amending one’s life. By reflecting on the life of Jesus, especially the sorrowful mysteries, we must be moved to repentance for sin. To pray the rosary well and receive the graces it affords, one must have pure intentions of abandoning sin and turning to God with one’s whole heart.
With Attention (Forty-Second Rose)
When praying the rosary it is important to concentrate on the prayers being prayed and the mystery being contemplated. As De Montfort wittingly notes, “How can we expect God to listen to us if we ourselves do not pay attention to what we are saying?” It would be almost impossible to pray without any distractions, but to pray the rosary well we must give our best attention to our prayer.
Fighting Distractions (Forty-Third Rose)
De Montfort readily acknowledges that by saying the same prayer over and over again, one could fall asleep or turn to other less tedious prayers. The distractions and temptations one faces regarding the rosary, he calls temptations from the evil one who seeks to make us bored, distracted, or exhausted. At times, the devil might even try to convince us that the rosary is useless. These are the distractions that the devil employs to lead us away from the rosary because he knows that its devotees are no longer in his grasp. It is important to fight such distractions given the meritorious nature of the rosary for the Day of Judgment.
A Good Method (Forty-Fourth Rose)
A good reminder to me during my recent re-read was De Montfort’s insistence of praying the rosary for a special grace (ie. with an intention in mind). In the past, I have simply prayed the rosary, without calling to mind any specific intentions. Perhaps what was true for me was one of De Montfort’s retorts: a “big fault a lot of people make when saying the Holy Rosary is to have no intention other than that of getting it over as quickly as possible.” A good method of praying the rosary includes asking for a special grace.
De Montfort also calls speed pray-ers to task saying, “It is really pathetic to see how most people say the Holy Rosary–they say it astonishingly fast and mumble so that the words are not properly pronounced at all.” To this, De Montfort suggests slowing down with the rosary. In the text he inserts crosses between the phrases of the Our Father and Hail Mary where one should pause. A good method of praying the rosary includes slowing down our pace.
With Reverence (Forty-Fifth Rose)
In this reflection, De Montfort, recommends praying the rosary while kneeling, but also says other forms are alright if necessary (in bed, at work, etc.) If someone prays all 15 decades (now 20 decades) each day, De Montfort recommends breaking it up and spacing those prayers throughout the day and if need be, a person could pray one decade at a time.
Group Recitation (Forty-Sixth Rose)
St. Louis de Montfort says praying the rosary as a group is a very efficacious way of praying the rosary. More specifically, he says that is the best way to glorify God and to scare the devil. He goes on to explicate that when one person prays the rosary individually, they gain the merit of one rosary, whereas a person who recites the rosary in the group, gains merit for all the rosaries prayed by each person.
Proper Disposition (Forty-Seventh Rose)
When speaking about proper dispositions De Montfort means ongoing personal recitation of the rosary. He outlines four dispositions, with the fifth being explicated in the forty-eight rose. The first disposition is to always pray and not grow faint. Essentially De Montfort gently reminds the devotee of the rosary’s effects in overcoming sin and the importance of our fidelity to the devotion for this reason. Secondly he says we must pray the rosary with faith and thirdly with humility. The fourth is to pray with great confidence for the graces which we seek.
Perseverance (Forty-Eight Rose)
When praying the rosary, especially for a specific intention, we must never tire in our prayer but to persevere. De Montfort says, “God’s munificence is shown in His making us seek and ask for, over a long period of time, the grace which He wishes to give us and quite often the more precious the grace, the longer He takes to grant it. There are three reasons why He does this: 1. To thus increase this grace still more: 2. To make the recipient more deeply appreciate it; 3. To make the soul who receives it very careful indeed not to lose it-for people do not appreciate things that they can get quickly and with very little trouble.” Additionally, De Montfort encourages perseverance in order to overcome the many people who will want to guide us away from the rosary devotion. Just like the saints who prayed the rosary, we must persevere, and if we do so until death, and according to De Montfort, if we do, that is a favor give by Almighty God.
Indulgences (Forty-Ninth Rose)
This rose deals with the indulgences devotees may obtain by praying the rosary. The list De Montfort gives corresponds to his era of Catholicism. For the indulgences attached to the rosary, I refer the reader to the Enchiridion of Indulgences. This rose of meditation offered by De Montfort seems out of place, since indulgences do not directly refer to how one should recite the rosary. Then again, it is after reciting the rosary, that one can gain such indulgences.
Various Methods (Fiftieth Rose)
In this final rose of the book, De Montfort proposes several ways to pray the rosary. He encouraged praying the “Come Holy Ghost [Spirit] prayer” and then to make a prayer offering of the rosary and the rosary as usual. Prior to each decade a few sentences precedes the Our Father. For example, for the Annunciation, one would pray “We offer Thee, O Lord Jesus, this first decade in honor of Thy Incarnation and we ask of Thee, through this mystery and through the intercession of Thy most Holy Mother, a profound humility.” After the Our Father, Ten Hail Marys, and Glory Be, one prays: “Grace of the mystery of the Incarnation, come down into my soul and make it truly humble”. This is a longer form of praying the rosary as recommended by St. Louis de Montfort. But he also proposes a shorter way, which I will explain further.
A Rosary Litany
The shorter way of praying the rosary recommended by De Montfort in the Fiftieth Rose is the insertion of a meditative phrase in the Hail Mary. This is what De Montfort writes: “A Shorter Way of Commemorating the Life, Death and Glory of Jesus and Mary in the Most Holy Rosary, and a Way to Curb our Imagination and to Lessen Distractions. In order to do this we must add a word or two to each Hail Mary (depending upon the decade) and this will help remind us which mystery we are commemorating. This word or words should be added after the word ‘Jesus’”. De Montfort lists a few words for each of the mysteries. For the Annunciation he recommends “Jesus Incarnate;” for the Nativity, “Jesus born in poverty;” for the crucifixion, “Jesus Crucified.”
This simple way of praying the rosary transformed my recitation of the rosary and focused my meditation. It did precisely what he said it would–curb imagination and lessen distractions. In my own prayer, I started to come up with additional phrases for each mystery. In so doing, I developed the De Montfortian method of praying the rosary, and have published a new devotional, A Rosary Litany, which proposes a meditative phrase for each Hail Mary of the rosary. This is different from the scriptural rosary, because rather than preceding the Hail Mary, the phrase is inserted into the Hail Mary itself. By adding the phrases, I better relate to the mystery and see the unfolding of who Jesus is and what he endured during each mystery. A Rosary Litany does nothing new, it simply renews a pious custom recommended by St. Louis De Montfort and promoted by Blessed Paul VI (Marialis Cultus) and St. John Paul II (Rosarium Virginis Mariae).
St. Louis De Montfort, a great devotee of Mary, has inspired countless people in their Marian devotion on account of his Marian treatises. In his rosary classic he unfolds the secrets of the rosary, making them accessible to devotees of Mary, by showing the efficacy and power of the rosary through varied stories. Such stories inspire the children of Mary to a greater dedication to the Marian devotion par excellence, and as a wise teacher, knowing that many will renew their rosary devotion by means of his text, De Montfort provides excellent advice on how to pray the rosary better. While De Montfort wrote in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s, his Secret of the Rosary is a timeless treasure, which impacts people to this very day. I know this to be true, because it inspired me. And now, through A Rosary Litany, countless others.
image: The Rosary by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0